Things get heated in hot weather
Iwas up in Monaghan a couple of months ago and people who sounded like they knew what they were on about were commenting on crows’ homes. ‘Look, they’ve all built their nests high in the trees,’ they said. That, apparently, is a crow way of signalling to us humans: ‘Cancel the fortnight in Santa Ponsa — you’ll be sizzling yourself to a crisp on your own coast this year.’ In other words, adherents of the high-nest theory were positive we were in for a fabulous summer.
I forgot all about that when I got back to my little Dublin city-centre flat. I just presumed we’d be having the usual July-August rainy season, not that there was much actual nature in the neighbourhood to read signs from, like, say, the local rats surreptitiously stockpiling galoshes.
Anyway, hurray for high nests! Last summer might have been the wettest in our weather history, but even if it’s lashing the day you read this, it cannot be denied that we’ve had an excellent sun innings this time round: day after day of the kind of belting sun that reminds me of childhood summers above on the bog, saving turf, the dark brown of the banks sucking the rays down, the heat of it turning the ground to a scree of peat dust that stuck to your sweat-lathered skin like a crust of earthy seasoning, while a deep enduring tan was baked onto you.
I didn’t need to hear the recent news that Bord na Móna lost € 23 million last year because of the ‘catastrophic’ peat harvest to know that wet summers have mitigated against the saving of the native fuel. ‘Imagine trying to foot turf, and the sods flopping in your hand,’ a local farmer complained to me the last time I was down in Sligo. Wobbly turf footings collapsing into flat wigwams of muck? The image was shocking (probably only if you’re very familiar with turf saving, the cutting and turning and footing and building into reeks that must mean nothing to an urbanite). It was as if the Irish weather was destroying turf tradition. I can imagine the same man’s delight this perfect summer, to be back to his back-breaking turf work — if the EU allows.
Thinking of turf, I’m glad I’m a city dweller now. A stretch of fine days in the country means that one thing: work! I wouldn’t be up to it any more. I’ve grown too — what’s the word? — lazy. Last week I met up with an old school friend, on her way from her home in Amsterdam to the family farm in Sligo. She told me her father had two banks of turf turned by hand already. He’s 85 years of age. Her Dutch children couldn’t wait to get down to help him — they love the novelty of it all. I wouldn’t call it that myself.
Yet the feeling that fine weather is for chores remains. Look, the sun’s out — janey, you’d better use it while it lasts, I automatically think. But how? Wash everything and line-dry it in a trice, paint everything, drag all your soft furnishings into the garden, detox them of winteriness under the ultraviolet glare of unbroken sun, re-do the garden while you’re at it? None of that applies to me because I live in a third-floor concrete shoebox, otherwise known as a ‘modern Irish apartment’. So, what else is left? Vitamin D-producing. That’s been a popular sun chore all over the city, I’ve noticed: the lolling about in skimpy-wear that it involves being a lot more — what’s the word? — nice than farm labour.
Not that it can’t be fraught. The other evening, my sister-in-law, some of her mum chums and kiddies were catching the final rays of the day. They were on a South Dublin beach, next to where they live. As the kids splashed about, they were enjoying a G&T each, garnished with cucumber. Close by was a gang of women knocking back cider from two-litre bottles, toddlers and babies in tow. Leaving for home, the well-oiled cider-women left behind a heap of squashed bottles and assorted debris, including two rancid nappies. ‘Excuse me,’ one of Tracy’s friends ventured. ‘Would you mind taking your rubbish with you?’ The littering of the local beach is a constant problem in good weather. Suddenly they were under attack: ‘This is a f***ing beach, not a cocktail bar.’ ‘Who the f*** do you think you are, you posh bitches?’ ‘You can stick your f***ing cucumber.’ And the pièce de résistance, to the woman who’d confronted the litter louts: ‘And if I were you, I’d do something about my f***ing roots.’
Roots as in hair, not background, though evidently it was a sense of perceived social difference that fuelled the cider dames’ attack. Tracy and her friends narrowly escaped being physically assaulted but afterwards found the pointed insults flung at them hilarious: particularly the one about the roots, as the lady the comment had been aimed at had just had them done, very expensively.
It’s just a shame the cider-quaffers’ wit-tastic intelligence didn’t make them realise that ‘beach’ is not the same as ‘bin’ and that what was politely asked of them was reasonable. And, ultimately, it’s a pity that they hadn’t just f***ed off to Santa Ponsa to do their foul-mouthing and litter-louting over there this summer.